Seven Day Quest for the Old Man (part II)

Posted on May 31, 2011

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“Turkey hunters have a tendency to endow their quarry with almost supernatural powers
or to ascribe qualities to the bird which no gobbler really possesses. They do
this, more often than not, as a result of their own failure-a humbled hunter’s
exercise in self-justification. Yet there is an element of accuracy in
descriptions regularly encountered in the sport’s literature: ‘hermit gobbler,’
‘call-shy bird,’ ‘wary warrior.’ Terms of this sort offer a measure of insight,
for the uninitiated, into just how difficult it can be to bag a mature tom. And
visions of devilishly difficult toms that repeatedly outwit hunters, sending
them home with empty game bags and dragging footsteps, add to the narrative
romance that most readers welcome.”  – Jim Casada

This was indeed turning into much more of a match than even I had bargained for as we continue the story on day four.

 

Day
4

I slipped back into the same small field that I’d sat on day two only to once again be foiled by gobbling birds descending straight down into the woods and following noisy hens out to the big fields. It seems that with every move I make in this chess match, my adversary counters with one that benefits him. Although, in this game he only has to be wrong once and then his spurs will be mine.

I set out a hen and Jake dummy an hour after fly down and began to call. Thirty minutes later I got a response from about as far away as could be heard. I answered back and he did likewise. “Well,” I thought to myself, “maybe we have a game.” For nearly two hours I continued to pull the bird toward me and he was now just below the field, probably on the trail leading in.

His gobbles were becoming more intense as I really ramped up the yelps and cuts on my diaphragm call. He was now at best, 20-yards from the dummies, completely screened by short pines that grew on either side of the opening I had my sights trained on. Two-minutes elapsed and no gobbling, “is he going to finish the trek in silence,” I thought? And then he gobbled, only this time on my left. He had silently crossed behind me and obviously wanted nothing to do with my dummies. And just to rub the salt a little deeper into my wounded pride, he continued to gobble as he strolled away. It was him; I know it was him just by the sound of his
voice and by his cunning maneuvers. We were now becoming well acquainted.

Day
5

I was more determined than ever to outfox this cagy bird and had high hopes of giving him a one-gun salute today. My alarm was set for 3:15 but awoke at least an hour before strategically thinking about how to get this Old Man in front of my gun. Can you believe it, the turkey is asleep on the roost and I’m lying awake in a comfortable bed agonizing over his demise. You would think the turkey was the one with the gun; good thing he wasn’t!

I went to the upper end of the field to the east, listened once again to the chorus of gobbling from the trees and waited until the birds were on the ground before attempting to coax them my way. Once again, my attempt was in vain as the troop of gobblers, like
compliant tin soldiers were led to the large field by raucous yelping hens.

More frustrated than ever, I got up to retrieve my two dummies when eerily our eyes locked; there he was strutting 300-yards away in the center of the field; that is until he spotted me. Folding his wings, dropping his tail feathers the Old Man seemingly mocked
me in defiance as he stood his ground and just stared.

Packing up the dummies, I hunched down and used a hedge row to conceal my movement as I quickly made a beeline to the woods where I began a methodical stalk. “As a rule,” according Rutledge, “when once a wild turkey has seen the hunter, why, it’s all off. If
he makes you out, he’ll quit the country; he’ll quit the world.” But the way I figured it, rules are meant to be broken and I was going to be the exception. When I finally arrived, parallel to where I last saw him he’d disappeared, big surprise, right? Retracing my steps back into the woods, I continued further on with my stalk until I reached the highest point of land, reemerged to field edge and spied my bearded Old Man feeding next to an old abandoned barn. I got myself positioned and began to call; no response, in fact, he treated me with indignation as he continued to walk along and feed.

I then got an idea, while he is behind the barn and out of sight, I’ll sprint down, peek around the corner and have him. Are you laughing yet? When I reached the corner of the barn and peered around, no bird was in sight. With my gun up in ready mode I continued tippy-toeing around the weathered structure searching for the black rogue. As I was performing my best Elmer Fudd imitation, quite a sight I’m sure, I noticed something move to my left about 75-yards away; yup, you guessed it, it was him
once again watching me now with seeming defiance.

 

                                                                                                                              illustration – flickr.com

With less than an hour of hunting time left I decided to slowly make my way out and call it a day. As I neared the spot where I
first saw him 5-days ago, unbelievably, there he stood silently watching my approach. When I stopped he, along with a smaller long beard casually walked out of sight in the direction I had to go to reach my truck.

Without hesitation, I sprinted down the trail taking a quick glance at my watch, 5-minutes of legal shootingleft. Cresting the incline in the trail, there they were, the two of them looking like they were out for a nonchalant stroll and not more than 30-yards in front of me. I brought the gun up, but something within told me not to shoot; I can’t explain it other than it just didn’t feel right. The two
gentlemen then kicked it up a notch and disappeared back into the woods.

Day
6

This morning I was really going to get aggressive. I went back to my Scotch pine fortress and readied for the wake-up serenade. Just as soon as the gobbling began I started my own chorus of cuts, yelps and cackles. The more the hens ramped it up the greater my calling intensified. I wanted these birds to think there was a fire and for them to come immediately to extinguish it.

As soon as their feet hit the turf not only did they ignore me, but went in the exact opposite direction. I am of the belief that as they continued to gobble out of range they were simultaneously giving me the one-wing salute. Well I reckoned, if the bird isn’t going to come to me than I must go to the bird, or at least figure out why two mornings in a row they have exited in the same direction.

Upon making my way over to the birds exit route it all became clear as to their preference for this corridor. They could easily walk down a dim path, across a shallow stream, onto hardwood bench and out into a large field. Sitting down against a blow down I
spent two-plus hours getting acquainted with this piece of real estate and began to make a plan for the next day. After a lengthy inward debate I finally picked out the exact tree I would sit against come morning. The final remaining piece to my plan was how I would get to this spot using the proverbial ‘back door?’ I continued my investigation by walking the game trail, which eventually
led me to a road that I would be able to use to quietly access my newfound ambush in the dark.

Day
7

At 2 A.M. I was suddenly awoken with a thought reverberating in my head, “Don’t cross the stream!” What in the world is that
suppose to mean? As I laid there for an hour, trying figure it out, it continued to make no sense to me. Dismissing the thought I arose, ate and departed for the Old Man’s domicile. In the dark I made my way down the road, reached the location where the game trail emerged from the woods and began walking toward the stream; all the while attempting to perform my best rendition
of a white-tailed deer in the act of browsing.

When I reached the edge of the stream, the very words that woke me earlier returned with even greater impact, “Don’t cross the stream!” Now it had my attention, and I began to look for an alternative set-up. In the darkened wood I picked out a large birch tree
growing against a stone wall to sit against. As the sky began to brighten and the first gobbles could be heard just over the hill, I realized that the ash tree next to me offered a better shot angle and a bit more ground cover. Timing my short move to the height of the gobbling, I quickly, although tentatively switched my position.

Once the birds were on the ground their gobbles became muffled indicating that instead of pitching out on the top as had been the norm, they dropped into the ravine. I sat there dismayed and more than a bit baffled silently muttering, “Disappointed again.”
At that low moment I doggedly determined to sit tight, at least for an hour and see what plays out. In the words of Archibald Rutledge, “At such a time a man has to use all the headwork he has. And in hunting I had long since learned that that often means not to do a darn thing but to sit tight.” And that is exactly what I did for the next 30-minutes.

And then out of the silence, from top side I heard the yelps of a hen and before long; she was heading down onto the trail and directly at me. When she got to within 5-yards she stopped and looked me over good. It was then that my left leg, the very limb my gun was resting atop began to shake and quiver like a dead aspen leaf in a stiff breeze. Involuntary, can’t explain it and the harder I tried to stop it, the more it continued to shake. Perhaps Rutledge was right when he penned, “At such a time, when the hunter has to wait his chance, he has a good opportunity to get excited.”

The hen took two more steps and stopped near my rattling left leg and at the same time, I began to hear the putt of another hen directly behind me; “this is not looking good,” I thought. And then, like the spectacular, breathtaking beauty of the sun that has just broken the horizon in its entire glowing splendor, the Old Man came over the top of the rise following the exact line of the hen. As he closed the distance to the half way point, he suddenly stopped, perhaps assessing the situation, maybe he thought something amiss, but rather than depart he casually strolled a few steps to his left, still looking…

 

Finally, at long last this grand bronzed king was before my gun, and from 18-yards distance my sixes hit the mark squarely ending the Old Man’s Kingly reign. Of special note and of particular interest was, had I not listened to the voice in my head and crossed
the stream to sit where I’d originally planned, getting a shot would have been difficult at best. It’s always best to listen to that ‘still small voice.’

 The Old Man weighed 20 pounds, had a 9-inch broomed beard and sported 1 ¼ -inch spurs. By all accounts he is minimally a
four-year old and quite possibly five. Either way, this hard won formidable foe will ever be a cherished memory for as long as I pursue this grand bird.

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